Re: [asa] Random and design

From: Don Winterstein <>
Date: Wed Dec 06 2006 - 18:37:49 EST

Among the several limitations of science is its inability to monitor more than a negligible fraction of what goes on in the world. If we define miracle to be an act of God that violates natural law, it is not inconsistent with science to believe there may be miracles going on all the time. That is, the number of possibilities for miracles exceeds Avogadro's number by a large factor, and the number of measurements that scientists can do is negligible in comparison. This means the chance any scientist would happen to measure one of these hypothetical miracles is close to zero. If he did happen to measure one, and it gave him a wild result, the usual practice would be to throw it out as unexplained bad data.

Science relies on averages, and a miracle almost by definition would lie outside the expected range and hence give unusable data. What we can say is that the world is consistent enough to allow science to be useful; in other words, the averages practically speaking can be counted on to work all the time. Nevertheless, to conclude as scientists commonly do that all parts of the world must always behave in accord with their averages is unwarranted.

The point is that miracles could be far more common than scientists think. In random conversations I've found many people who sincerely believe either they themselves or close acquaintances have witnessed miracles. (And none were in the category of the Virgin on a piece of toast.) If I can extrapolate these conversations to the rest of the world, a large fraction of people must believe they've witnessed miracles. Are they all wrong? Probably most are, because miracles make life exciting and meaningful, so people are motivated to experience them even if they aren't real. But some of the miracles may have been real. In most cases science can't say they weren't.

(Of course, if you carefully investigate, as RCs do at Lourdes, for example, you may be able to say they weren't.)


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Merv<>
  To: Don Winterstein<> ;<>
  Sent: Monday, December 04, 2006 6:00 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Random and design

  This exchange has provoked me to wonder how much of our proposed
  categorizations of various phenomena (i.e. natural and/or divine) is
  reducible to mere word play. For example, we define scientific law as
  that which has been observed to be true universally as far as we can see
  and over time as far back as we ever started measuring it. So it is by
  definition that no regular or repeatable "violations" to such a law have
  ever been observed. If they had, we would no longer call it a law. If
  the divine interventions were physically detectable on a regular basis,
  then they would simply be incorporated as a new set of observations
  fitting within some new law to be explicated.

  Regarding a common perception that miracles don't happen like they used
  to in Bible times: There must be a name for the faulty perception of
  "crowding" as the observer's distance away increases. Just as a
  cluster of telephone poles could look closely packed if you were a mile
  away from them and yet appear quite far apart if you were standing among
  them, we may be fostering a distorted view of "Biblical times" by
  thinking of them as action packed with miracles. The narratives will,
  for understandable reasons, dwell on those special times (like history
  books tend to jump from war to war). And yet more careful readings
  reveal quite the "dry spells" that people endured -- enough that various
  Psalms reveal the same kinds of stubborn doubts about God's presence (or
  seeming lack of) that is supposedly the skeptical domain of recent
  centuries. For all we know, a book compiled about our present
  centuries might convey to a (several millenniums future if anybody is
  still around) readership a that our present period is full of
  extravagant divine activity. -- most of which may be invisible to us
  right now because of its localized sense, that will only be recognized
  as significant by future eyes who see wider contexts than we now can.
  Likewise, "details" which seem significant to us right now may fade into
  unseeable insignificance to these possible future readers. In fact,
  we may appear to them to have been on the tails of New Testament & Old
  Testament activity, practically merging with them from their temporally
  distant perspective. Of course, if you were lucky enough to be alive
  to walk with Jesus, or cross the Red sea with Moses, then you get may
  get an eyeful. But those are tiny spots on the time line. And even
  their lives were lived over many years instead of over many chapters
  that can be read in a few days.

  Things (including our "empty spaces") loom large to us when we're living
  in the middle of them. I guess that pretty well summarizes my ramble


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Received on Wed Dec 6 18:46:58 2006

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